Shaykh Faraz A. Khan is asked whether a scholar is obliged to answer a student who asks a question seeking knowledge, and if there is any circumstance in which the scholar can refuse.

Question

If an Alim has knowledge – i.e. fiqh rulings, tenets of aqa’id, etc., – and a muqallid asks the Alim, or Ulema, about this knowledge (i.e to teach them the true and correct knowledge),  is the Alim obliged to teach them? And if not, what is the ruling on Ulema with holding knowledge from a muqalid/ the awwam(general masses). When is it permissible for the Alim or Ulema to either flatly ignore the muqallid or overtly refuse to answer a sincere request for teaching/instruction?

Answer

Assalamu alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.

I pray this finds you in the best of health and faith.

The general rule is that it is prohibited for a scholar to withhold knowledge from one who seeks it if the knowledge relates to religious obligations. Some scholars add that the prohibition applies only if there is no other scholar available to teach that knowledge. *(Khadimi, Bariqa Mahmudiyya Sharh Tariqa Muhammadiyya; Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir Sharh Jami al-Saghir)

Withholding obligatory knowledge that the questioner has no other recourse to is a serious and grave sin. In his compendium on major sins in Islam, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami lists “Withholding Knowledge” as an enormity [kabira], due to the numerous primary texts of the Qur’an and Sunna that sternly warn against it. (Zawajir fi Iqtiraf al-Kaba’ir)

Primary Texts from the Qur’an

Allah Most High states in the Qur’an:

Verily those who conceal that which We have revealed of clear signs and guidance, after We have made it clear for people in the Book – on them shall be Allah’s curse, and the curse of those who curse. Except those who repent, make amends, and make manifest [the truth]; to them I relent, for I am Oft-returning, Most Merciful (Sura al-Baqara 2:159-60)

-“Surely, those who conceal that which Allah has revealed of the Book and take for it a small price – they eat nothing into their bellies but fire. Allah will not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He purify them; and they shall have a painful chastisement.” [2:174]

-“And when Allah took a covenant with those who were given the Book: ‘You shall certainly make it known to mankind and shall not hide it.’ But they cast it behind their backs and took a small price for it – how vile is that which they gained thereby.” (Sura Aal Imran 3:187)

Scholars mention that although these Qur’anic verses relate to specific peoples historically, the specificity of context does not negate the generality of the wording and, hence, prohibition. Therefore, the verses would apply to scholars of our community that withhold religious knowledge that is needed by the community. Qatada, for example, said with respect to the covenant mentioned in the latter verse above (Sura Aal Imran 3:187), “This is a covenant that Allah has taken with all who possess knowledge, so whoever has knowledge let him teach it. Beware of withholding knowledge, for indeed its concealment is a catastrophe.”

This is how various Noble Companions understood the verses as well, such as Aisha and Abu Hurayra [Allah be pleased with them]. Abu Hurayra swore by Allah that were it not for two verses in the Qur’an (Sura al-Baqara 2:159-60, see above], he would not have related any Prophetic hadiths.

(Jassas, Ahkam al-Qur’an; Haytami, Zawajir fi Iqtiraf al-Kaba’ir; Ibn Abdul Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm)

Related Hadith and Commentary

In addition, there are many hadiths of our Beloved Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, that prohibit the concealment of sacred knowledge.

The most well-known hadith on the matter is: “Whoever is asked about [sacred] knowledge and withholds it will have a bridle of fire placed on him on the Day of Judgment.” In some narrations there is the addition, “with respect to religious knowledge by which Allah benefits people.” (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Sahih Ibn Hibban, Ibn Maja)

However, it must be noted again that these texts are interpreted by scholars to refer to knowledge that the questioner immediately needs to fulfill his religious obligations. Examples are if a scholar is questioned by a Muslim regarding whether something is lawful or prohibited; by a recent Muslim convert regarding how to perform the prayer; or by a non-Muslim regarding how to enter Islam. The threats mentioned in the above verses and hadiths do not apply to supererogatory knowledge that is not necessary, nor to secular knowledge.

(Qari, Mirqat al-Mafatih Sharh Mishkat al-Masabih; Suyuti, Sharh Ibn Maja; Mubarakpuri, Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi; Abadi, ‘Awn al-Ma‘bud)

And Allah alone gives success.

Wassalam

Faraz A. Khan

Checked and Approved by Faraz Rabbani

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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)